Kennewick council discusses 2013-14 budget

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldOctober 31, 2012 

Kennewick's proposed budget for the next two years includes hiring three more police officers to target gang activity.

That will allow Kennewick police to maintain current service levels with the city's increasing population, said Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg.

The Kennewick City Council discussed on Tuesday a proposed 2013-14 budget that would maintain services.

The proposed operating budget would total $95.7 million.

The city's revenue growth has lagged behind increases in city's expenses, according to city documents.

"We've eliminated 31 positions since 2005, and we think we've done a lot of creative things to realign resources and readdress how we are delivering services," City Manager Marie Mosley told the Herald.

But the city is at the point where staff can't be cut without affecting the services residents receive, Mosley said.

Mosley said they've heard from citizens that they are willing to pay more taxes to target gang activity and to maintain or increase fire and emergency medical response times.

Three more patrol officers would mean that the police department no longer would have to pull from the criminal apprehension team, which focuses on criminal gang activity, for regular city patrols, Hohenberg said.

Currently, one of the team's eight officers is helping with patrols instead of the team, he said.

The new officers will balance out the four patrol squads with 12 officers each, Hohenberg said. Right now, only one of the squads has 12 officers.

Hohenberg said it's important for police to continue to maintain a strong presence in dealing with criminal gang activity.

Those positions will cost about $650,400 for two years, according to the budget presentation.

The city will use property tax money to pay for the police officers. That will be done by maintaining the current levy rate of $2.11 per $1,000 of assessed value, Mosley said.

But the council is being asked to approve an increase in total property tax revenue. That would come from the1 percent increase in total property tax revenue collected as allowed by state law, as well as using $125,000 of banked levy capacity that was saved during years when the council decided to decline the 1 percent increase, she said.

That will bring in an additional $325,000 a year to pay for the officers, Mosley said.

The city hopes to eventually continue paying for the new officers using a criminal justice sales tax if Benton County voters approve one.

And then the property tax revenue would be used for three new fire captain positions to staff a new fire station that is being considered by a task force.

The law and justice committee will be encouraging Benton County commissioners to place a sales tax proposal on the ballot in 2013.

Hohenberg said the city eventually needs to hire 15 more police officers.

The city has added just one officer since 2002, despite seeing Kennewick's population increase by more than 18,000 people, he said.

There currently are 90 officers, and Kennewick's population is 75,160.

Kennewick had about 1.21 police officers per 1,000 city residents in 2011, while the state average is 1.41 officers, Hohenberg said.

But Hohenberg said he isn't asking for more than the three new officers because of the city's current budget and resources. Quality of life also is influenced by other services such as streets and parks, he said.

The city plans to decrease spending on capital projects by 27 percent in the next biennium.

The total amount proposed is $42.3 million for both years. Capital project plans include completing Hildebrand Boulevard and Steptoe Street, Mosley said.

The council plans a public hearing on the biennial budget and property tax levy Nov. 20.

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